Tenminute Exercise

Before I give you my answer, why don't you work on one of your own. See what you can do to give this dead story some energy. Take ten minutes to rewrite it (more if you get rolling). You can do it two ways. You can write it all out the way it needs to be. Or you can write some general, summary statements about how it should go—plan it out without doing it word for word.

You've done yours. Now I'll do mine. Here's another version of the same story. See if I can get you more involved.

In this version, I've got a touch of bronchitis or flu the day Larry is coming for dinner. I'm not feeling great, but I'm still up for dinner with Larry. Now, the flu is a minor detail, but I want you to decide whether you want it in or out. You don't have to have a reason—just a feeling. Most people, nine out often, prefer the flu in. Remember, this is not flu we're talking about. This is story, and in story, everything counts. Nothing is along for the ride.

So, the flu is in. Larry comes over. We have a few drinks. He and my wife are both smokers. Before we get to dinner, they run out of cigarettes. "I'll go get them," I say. "I want to get out of this haze and clear my lungs." I head out for the corner store to get their smokes.

It's a nice walk. I get their cigarettes and head back, but instead of walking up the front walk, I decide to take the shortcut down the alley. OK, point two: alley in or out? Like the flu, most people go for the alley. Flu and alley. Why? The answer to that is at the very heart of successful storytelling. It's not flu. It's not alley. It's story.

So, I'm walking down the alley, relaxing, breathing fresh air, looking at the yards. Now, our kitchen sticks out from the back of the house and is all windows along the side. I can see Larry and my wife in the kitchen. As I come through the yard, I see they're having a rather intense conversation. My wife is especially lively. I haven't seen her that spirited in months.

OK, what's on your mind right now? What are you thinking? Let me guess. You're thinking, hanky-panky, fooling around, touching, embracing, kissing, etc. Not only are you thinking it, but you're wanting it. Oh, yes. Not only do you give me the flu and make me walk down the alley, but you throw my marriage into crisis by making my wife unfaithful. Maybe not in reality, but in story, we prefer cheating to loyalty— always. We want chemistry, passion, fireworks! You don't go to the amusement park to ride the merry-go-round. You go to ride the roller-coaster.

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